Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Like your name?

I hope so.

According to the CCC (2159), “The name one receives at baptism is a name for eternity”.


Please don’t get me wrong. I really, really like my name. It is a strong name with lots O’ history. “JOHN.” It means, “God is gracious” or as some etymologies put it, “God’s most gracious gift.” But I never go by it. I never have. Only the bishop and my Mom ever call me John. I was named after my grandpa and the Evangelist. I also had an uncle with the name and have a cousin with it. There were 5 people in my grade school class with the name and so we all took variations on John. 40% of my seminary class had the name John. (Okay, there were only 5 of us, but still.) At my last assignment there was a Fr. John, a deacon John, a Fr. Sean, and I was replaced by a Fr. John. (Hence the beauty of going by the name Fr. Valencheck.)

I can see it for all eternity, God will call out, “John,” and millions of people will look up and He’ll be forced to say, “No, not you, THAT John.” And millions of people will say, “Oh.”

Well, maybe not. It seems that in eternity each person’s name and person will be marked with a unique character of God, kind of like a fingerprint I suppose. “In the kingdom, the mysterious and unique character of each person marked with God’s name will shine forth in splendor (CCC 2159).” John Smiths of the world worry not. You will be unique in heaven.

But wow! If naming sticks forever, giving someone a name is pretty serious stuff. Giving a name is a special privilege (as is having someone named after you.) It is not insignificant that God let Adam choose the names of all the living creatures. “Whatever the man called each of them would be its name (Gen 2:19)”.

God did His own fare share of naming. He named Jesus, His Son, as well as John the Baptist. In “recreating” a person He symbolized a new state of happiness, a new way of life; new life! “You shall be called by a new name . . .(Is 62;2)” Thus Abram became Abraham; Sarai becomes Sarah; Jacob, Israel; Simon, Peter; Saul becomes Paul.

Naming puts us in special relation. Kids name pets, some people name certain possessions (cars, homes), businesses pay big bucks to name stadiums, and those who make scientific discoveries get to name them. We give nicknames to people we love (or really don’t love).

But none of these are as important as giving someone a baptismal name. “At baptism, the Lord’s name sanctifies the man, and the Christian receives his name in the Church (CCC 2156).” (Isn’t interesting that confirmation is the first time we officially name ourselves just as we are told that now we are responsible for our faith and to be disciples that brings His Good News to the world? Of course, one may ratify his baptismal name at confirmation too.)

In ancient times a name was given to identify the essence, nature, or function of the individual. St. Thomas Aquinas says, “Now, the names of individual men are always taken from some property of the men to whom they are given. Either in regard to time; thus men are named after the Saints on whose feast they are born: or in respect of some blood relations; thus a son is named after his father or some other relation, . . . Or, again from some occurrence; thus Joseph called the name of the first-born Manasses saying, “God hath made me to forget all my labors (Gen XLI;51). Or, again, from some quality of the person who receives the name; thus it is written (Gen. Xxv;25) that he came forth first was red and hairy like a skin; and his name was called Esau, which is interpreted red.” (SummaQ37 art 2 pt III)

Saint Ambrose of Milan and St. John Chrysostom urged parents to name their children carefully as they thought it was being done haphazardly. The Roman Catechism urged parents not to give their children strange, laughable, or obscene names. Saints names were urged as they gave the recipient a model of charity and a sure intercessor upon whom they might rely. Not to be left out were names of Christian virtues (like Hope, although I do not recommend Chastity at the moment) or Christian mysteries (Anastasius [resurrection], Athanasius [immortality]). One could easily imagine one of our Protestant parents naming their children in this tradition and having someone come up to you one day and saying, “Hi! My name is Rapture and I will be your hostess today!”

All silliness aside, our name is considered an icon of the person. Considering the importance of what is meant by the word icon in the Eastern Church, this is pretty serious stuff. Everyone’s name is sacred and demands respect “as a sign of the dignity of the one who owns it (CCC 2158)”.

So no matter what your name, find a way to accept, appreciate, and celebrate it. In some way it is more beautiful than you can know and more unique than seems possible. It is that by which God calls you (Jn 10;3).

And if you should blessed to name a person, bear in mind not only the honor but the great responsibility is picking the name by which even God will call that person.

Here are some sites for names and their meanings.


Anonymous said...

so, i am uncle jim
and my wife is aunt rose [Rosalie Anna from her Scicilian roots]

and we love our names
there is so much history in them
and so much honor in the bearing

Adoro said...

I grew up knowing my name meant "youthful one" or "youthful spirit" or the like. Which is fine. Yesterday I was looking for names for people in my story, and my name was defined as "downy".

What does THAT mean? That I'm like a Chinchilla?

Anonymous said...

ROFL, Adoro! But down is the soft clean fur or feathers that are plucked from one's breast (rabbits, ducks, some birds of the air) to line the nest to keep little ones warm, so perhaps it's quite accurate.

My husband's name means gracious gift of God, and it is very accurate, but mine means hymn of joy to God, so.. well, I'm still working on it.

I feel better about names today. I had thought mine such a common name, and folks said, "No, no, it's special, delicate, sweet" and I rejoiced until we went to a large indoor seawater tank and the star of the tank next door, a 900 lb. porpoise, bore the same name.. I expect there's a platypus, cactus, or VW bus with this name, too.

Kidding aside, I think the Lord has a term of endearment for each of us, exclusive unto us, which builds upon our given name. I think He, the Father to Whom we are restored, says it and that our souls hear it, but He honors our parents' choice, so it seems our names, just as we'd write them, are the ones all but burned into the wood of His Son's Cross, at His request. Anyone's name, in His mouth, is unique and holy.


Anonymous said...

"He honors our parents' choice, so it seems our names, just as we'd write them, are the ones all but burned into the wood of His Son's Cross, at His request. Anyone's name, in His mouth, is unique and holy."

What a great post, but especially your line above. Beautiful way to see it.

Btw, can you divulge your first name? Mine means "light" or some such ... Helen being the original name and Eileen a Gaelic form of, or at least been told that. Also know I was named for a great aunt who I knew for 11 years. She was unable to have children and doted on me, much to the chagrin of my two older sisters ;)

Adoro said...

Just me ~ I also love your post and what eileen said..can you at least divulge your first name?

To be fair, my name is Julie.

The downy, youthful one. :-)

Fr. V said...


Anonymous said...

adore te... (Julie)...that is my 15-year old's name, actually baptized "Julia" (her middle name is Clare). I thought of "guessing" your name when you posted the meaning :)

Anonymous said...

My name as well as naming my children are very important to me.
When I was a little girl I did not know how important names were. It was when I got older and I read Judges and saw Deborah in the Bible. I thought that was so nice and I was glad and proud to be called Deborah. The only time I was not too happy with my name is when my very strict Italian father used to yell from downstairs "Deborah" it was then that I wished my name was different.
Both my children were named after Saints both their first name and middle. As they were Confirmed they took Saint names. My daughter took Faustina for Confirmation. From the first name to our last name(which is also a Saint name) is jammed packed with great names of great people.

Anonymous said...

"Carol," a derivative of Charles. Tho' if I hadn't arrived ahead of time which was awfully close to Christmas, I'd have been named Judith. Man, I can't imagine what my mom saw in me that would signal "hymn of joy to God!" I had a cowlick bigger than Montana and dark circles down to my knees. It's a wonder I wasn't called Phyllis O'Diller.

I love all your names.


Anonymous said...

Deborth and Carol, you just educated me on your names. It seems there are so many saints names either Old/New Testament that Catholic parents shouldn't have too hard a time naming their children ;) although we still hear the occasional "Tiffany" being baptized ...

Melody K said...

My mother said that she and Dad couldn't name a child until they had seen him or her; so they didn't choose names for us kids before birth. It sometimes took several days to arrive at a decision. Which drove the record-keeping lady at the hospital nuts. I didn't like my name when I was a small child; I wished it was "Susan". But I have grown to like it; Mom was right, I haven't a Susan personality. My middle name is Katherine, for my grandmother; I have always like it.

Anonymous said...


paramedicgirl said...

Well, my first name means farmer and my middle name means valley. I always hated it when I was growing up, but now I like it. Very few people have my name, and that always bothered me as a child. Georgia Lee. What do think? I like it now. I like to be unique just like everyone else. ;}
BTW, my patron saint is St. Helen. Only problem is I can't remember which Helen...